How Do Whistleblower Protections Protect Employees?

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How Do Whistleblower Protections Protect Employees?

Whistleblower laws provide important protection for employees who report their employers for engaging in illegal activities or violating the safety standards established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA. OSHA is the federal agency that is tasked with administering the whistleblower provisions found in 22 federal statutes. Here is an overview of the various protections employees enjoy under these laws from the employment attorneys at Swartz Swidler.

Which Whistleblower Laws Does OSHA Enforce?

OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions in the following laws with the following deadlines for filing complaints after a retaliatory act occurs:

  • Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act – Complaints must be filed within 90 days.
  • Clean Air Act – Complaints must be filed within 30 days.
  • Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act – Complaints must be filed within 30 days
  • Consumer Financial Protection Act – Complaints must be filed within 180 days.
  • Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act – Complaints must be filed within 180 days.
  • Energy Reorganization Act – Complaints must be filed within 180 days.
  • Federal Railroad Safety Act – Complaints must be filed within 180 days.
  • Federal Water Pollution Control Act – Complaints must be filed within 30 days.
  • International Safe Container Act – Complaints must be filed within 60 days.
  • Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act – Complaints must be filed within 180 days.
  • National Transit Systems Security Act – Complaints must be filed within 180 days.
  • Occupational Safety and Health Act – Complaints must be filed within 30 days.
  • Pipeline Safety Improvement Act – Complaints must be filed within 180 days.
  • Safe Drinking Water Act – Complaints must be filed within 30 days.
  • Seaman’s Protection Act – Complaints must be filed within 180 days.
  • Food Safety Modernization Act, Sect. 402 – Complaints must be filed within 180 days.
  • Affordable Care Act, Sect. 1558 – Complaints must be filed within 180 days.
  • Solid Waste Disposal Act – Complaints must be filed within 30 days.
  • Surface Transportation Assistance Act – Complaints must be filed within 180 days.
  • Surface Transportation Assistance Act – Complaints must be filed within 180 days.
  • Toxic Substances Control Act – Complaints must be filed within 30 days.
  • Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act – Complaints must be filed within 90 days.

What Types of Actions are Prohibited?

The whistleblower laws prohibit employers from retaliating against employees for engaging in any action that is protected by them. Retaliation occurs when an employer takes any type of adverse employment action against an employee, including the following examples:

  • Blacklisting employees
  • Demoting employees
  • Denying promotions
  • Denying overtime
  • Denying benefits
  • Disciplining employees
  • Firing employees
  • Laying employees off
  • Refusing to hire or rehire
  • Intimidating employees
  • Reducing hours or pay
  • Threatening employees

How Do You File a Complaint?

If you believe that your employer retaliated against you because you engaged in one of the activities protected by one of these laws, you must start by filing a complaint with OSHA within the applicable time frame as listed above for the law that your employer violated. Your complaint can be filed online, in person, by telephone, or in writing.

Once you file a complaint with OSHA, the agency will review it to make certain that it was filed on time and meets other basic requirements. If it does, OSHA will then investigate your complaint to determine whether or not your employer retaliated against you for engaging in protected activity under one of the laws OSHA administers. It might try to help you reach a settlement with your employer through mediation. The law covers private-sector employees and the United States Postal Service employees.

However, public-sector employees are not protected by the OSH Act. Local, county, and state employees are covered by whistleblower laws included in their state’s occupational safety and health plans. Federal employees who have been retaliated against for reporting violations by their employing federal agencies of safety and health violations that substantially endanger public health or public safety can file complaints with the Office of Special Counsel and follow their agency’s guidelines for reporting. Federal employees who are uncertain of whether they might be covered by a whistleblower law can go to www.whistleblowers.gov or call 1-800-321-OSHA.

What Happens After an Investigation?

After OSHA investigates your complaint, it will determine whether or not your employer has illegally retaliated against you. If your employer is found to have violated your rights under the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act, the OSH Act, or the International Safe Container Act, the U.S. Secretary of Labor might file a lawsuit on your behalf to pursue relief for you. If the agency determines that your employer did not violate one of these laws by retaliating against you, your complaint will be dismissed.

If your complaint falls under one of the other laws enforced by OSHA, and retaliation is found, the agency will issue an order requiring your employer to pay your lost wages, reinstate you to your position, and other types of relief. Once an order is issued, you or your employer can ask for an administrative hearing at the Department of Labor. If you or your employer are unhappy with the ruling from the administrative law judge, either of you can appeal it to the Administrative Review Board. Depending on the law that applies in your case, you can file a retaliation lawsuit in court if a final decision is not issued by the Administrative Review Board within the applicable deadline for a final decision.

Get Help from an Experienced Whistleblower Attorney

It is important to talk to an experienced whistleblower lawyer as soon as possible after your employer retaliates against you for exercising your rights. The deadlines for filing complaints are short, and if you miss your deadline, you will not be able to pursue a claim. Call Swartz Swidler for a free consultation at (856) 685-7420.